If you just bought your paintbrushes and paints, chances are you haven’t even thought about buying an easel. For many people its an unnecessary purchase, particularly if painting in watercolour. Sometimes you may tilt the canvas to achieve certain effects, but this is often done sparingly and at low angles. Majority of painters will paint the “traditional” way – with their canvases completely flat and horizontal. But this is not always the case. Some artists, such as Steve Cronin on YouTube, prefers painting with an easel.
For many people, the angle of your painting is a personal preference, but for some it can be necessity. For example, if you are working outdoors it can be difficult to find a table to hold all your tools as well as your canvas and not all easels can tilt flit. Another example – a reason I started looking at easels – is that you might get back and neck problems from leaning over your work.
Note: for all types of easels discussed below, it’s assumed that you are using a watercolour block or have placed your paper on a mounting board (such as used when stretching your paper).
If you aren’t sure about painting, or don’t want to spend lots of money, then consider a free option! You can prop your watercolour board up on a slant with simple household objects such as books (or even a tissue box). You only really need to get your canvas at an angle enough for the water to flow downwards on the paper – about 30 degree angle.
Tip: just make sure that your board won’t slip whilst painting. Try placing a non-slip material underneath your board and prop such as a drawer liner. If you paint fairly wet and expect a lot of liquid run off, you could even use a non-slip bathroom floor mat!
If you already have a tripod at home, and a mounting board or two for your paper, why not consider adding a tripod mount to the back of the board?
If you already own a mounting board and a tripod, consider looking up plein air easels (mentioned below). These materials can be easily adjusted with a tripod mounting kit so that your board ca be used on a tripod.
Table-top easels a bit more versatility when it comes to angling your canvas: some can go from completely flat to horizontal. Whilst some table-top easels can be completely adjustable with a dial, some have only a few set angle positions. There are two types of table-top easels to look out for:
- A standard frame to hold up your canvas,
- A box easel that will often have drawers for storage.
A box table-top easel can be used to help transfer your materials to and from different locations. Some drawers are customisable, but in most cases they are split into two or three pre-defined sections. If you carry around large jars (such as water jars or blending mediums), you may not be able to fit them into the drawers as they are often small.
These easels aren’t designed to be carried out on field – there isn’t such a focus on them being light weight. In fact, once packed with all your materials and tools, they can be quite hefty. They also don’t include any legs on them to help them stand on their own.
Tip: if you use this easel on a chair that doesn’t have arms, you can use it as a lap desk with the drawer extended to hold your supplies.
An example of a highly rated table-top easel on Amazon is the Ravenna Table Easel with Drawer. I own this easel and love how easy it makes transporting my supplies from room to room. The frame that drops below table-top height makes the easel perfect to use with a variety of desk heights. The biggest cons I have found with this easel is that it can be a bit heavy when fully loaded with supplies – though most easels are – and it can be a bit bulky if you are only painting smaller sized paintings.
A hybrid easel can be converted from a table-top easel to a full-length easel, making them very practical for artists who work in a variety of media types. A lot of hybrid easels can easily accommodate different angles.
This type of easel will often take up more space than an A-Frame easel and is sturdier than an A-Frame easel. It will often represent a H-Frame easel in shape.
A-Frame or Lyre Easel
One of the most common styles of easels that you will come across. The A-Frame easel got its name from the three primary support legs leaning together at the top, and the support piece between the poles. When viewed from the front, it makes the letter shape “A”.
These easels are often easily stored as they can be folded flat, a bit like an ironing board. They can hold large canvases up to full watercolour sheets, whilst also being able to handle smaller sized canvases.
They are not as sturdy as H-Frame easels if you are working quite large.
If you are considering buying an A-Frame easel, then perhaps have a look at portable options such as plain air easels as they give you the ability to work both inside and outside.
An example of a highly rated A Frame easel on Amazon is the American Easel Oak Yazhi Easel-Golden Finish.
H-Frame Easel or Giant Easel
Like the A-Frame, the H-Frame easel gets its name from the “H” shape it makes when appeared from the front. They take up much more room than A-Frames, and tend to be much heavier. As a result of that extra weight, they do tend to be sturdier than their counterparts.
In most situations, a watercolour artist will at most need an A-Frame easel.
If you work in extra-large canvases, then you will look at giant easels.
Note that it’s very difficult to get paper the size for a giant easel, and thus it would be incredibly rare to use this type of frame.
An example of a highly rated H frame easel on Amazon is the Jack Richeson Lyptus Wood “Dulce” Easel.
Single Mast Easel
Single mast easels are a great option for beginner artists as they can be cheap, portable and generally can be easily stored. Not all single mast easels will allow you to adjust the slope of your canvas (some has a pre-set fully open width for the legs). They are not as sturdy as the other easel types, however are good enough that you can get the job done.
Portable or Plein Air Easel
If you like the idea of painting outside, then definitely consider a portable easel. As the name suggests, a portable easel will be quite light and easy to carry. These easels are usually a mixture of a tripod legs and a a standard mounting board. The whole purpose of this kit is that they are light weight and portable, because of this many plein air easels are made out of aluminium or metals.
Some kits can be purchased with accessories such as backpacks, fold up water containers and brush holders, whilst some kits will only include the tripod and mounting board.
A popular plein air easel kit is the The En Plein Air Pro Traveler Series for Watercolor with Sunpak 2001 Tripod.
Bench Easels or Art Horses
These are a combination of bench and easel. If you are in a very small room, then this may be a clever option to hide your easel when not in use. Some bench easels can be quite portable, being somewhat collapsible and lightweight.
In most cases you probably will not need to buy a bench easel.
A display easel is designed for display and not painting – unlike other easels they can be flimsy and you risk painting accidents if the easel wobbles.
If you do plan to showcase your work, such as at art exhibitions, then by all means by some nice display easels. They come in a variety of aesthetic styles, and some can be hung as well as floor mounted. These are not encouraged to be used for painting on however, as they may wobble or even fall over when used.
A french easel is a great option if you plan to move your materials regularly, or want to be able to store the materials quickly and easily. French easels will have a box like structure on them with one or more drawers. They aren’t necessarily very tall, but will hold a majority of your supplies (paint brushes, palettes, etc). Many artists will take a fold up water-container with them for painting with, as this can fit inside the drawer once collapsed.
French easels have three legs attached to the box so that it can be transported and used in a variety of locations – both indoors and outdoors.
If you are painting with watercolours, you can buy a french easel that folds back completely (so you can paint horizontally), or you can enjoy the challenge of painting more vertically.
Just know that a french easel can weigh a lot once set your materials are placed inside.
A popular french easel on Amazon is the Jack Richeson Weston Full French Box Style Easel.